The arrival of COVID-19 earlier this year and the constant flow of information available has no doubt tapped into a deep fear of vulnerability, safety, health and job security. It’s understandable during a pandemic to feel a certain level of anxiety. After all, it’s almost impossible to not be a little bit fearful when everything from TV to social media, to lines outside the grocery store of people wearing masks and gloves. This is new and unfamiliar for most people and continues to be a constant rapidly changing situation.
Anxiety is an emotion. It actually serves a positive purpose of alerting the brain to things that are potentially unsafe. A healthy amount of anxiety is what allows people to spring into action and do what is needed to ensure the health and safety of themselves and their family.
Anxiety can sometimes make the leap over to catastrophizing, though. Here is the difference:
Anxiety is your brain’s heightened alertness and fear in a situation.
Catastrophizing is fearful, non-factual thinking and ruminating (or intrusive, unproductive thoughts). It’s a fearful thought loop.
Unlike anxiety, catastrophic thinking does not have any benefits. Instead, this kind of thinking fills the mind with emotions that are not necessary and moves thoughts quickly away from the reality of the situation and straight towards fear.
So, what can you do if you find yourself stuck ruminating on thoughts of the worst-case scenario regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the state of the world around you?
Here are a few helpful tips to help you stop that negative, fearful thought loop and direct your mind toward helpful, healthy thinking:
Any habit, in order to break it, requires first being aware that you are doing it in the first place. Non-factual thought loops can only continue as long as they are given fuel to keep going. In other words, continuing the loop and adding more unnecessary thoughts and fear. In order to begin to manage it, you have to first acknowledge that it’s happening, and what triggers it.
It’s also important to acknowledge and remind yourself that unpleasant experiences are a part of life. They happen sometimes, and there are things that are out of the control of any individual person. Just because one part of the day is bad does not mean that all days will be bad.
Also learn to catch the signs that a thought is turning catastrophic. For example, key words to pay attention to are “always” or “never.” Recognize that these words are signs that thinking is becoming catastrophic.
When you catch unfearful thoughts happening, quite literally tell yourself, out loud or in your brain, STOP. In fact, choose a word that is meaningful to you. Enough! Stop! No More! Telling yourself stop is meant to interrupt the unhealth pattern and allow you time to re-evaluate the thoughts.
This is a habit that might take some practice. It’s OK. Develop the habit of telling yourself to STOP when you recognize what’s happening.
CHALLENGE AND REFRAME
Challenge the thought. Ask yourself these questions – it may help to write the answers down in a journal to help build a habit:
Is this thought 100% true?
What evidence do I have that it is not 100% true?
What happens, how do I react, when I believe the thought?
How would I be without the thought?
Next, re-evaluate the experience or situation and think of another, more positive outcome that is equally as likely to happen. Ask yourself “What’s another possibility that could be just as true?”
People tend to be more likely to get caught up in a fearful thought loop when they are stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted. In the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, life, family and job roles look very different than they did a few months ago. Many people are adjusting to a new normal themselves as well as helping their children and family feel safe.
Make a priority to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you help others around you. Regular exercise, journaling, eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep are some great stress-relieving habits to help take better care of yourself.
Fearful, non-factual catastrophic thinking does not have to be a way of life. With some good strategies, support, and intentional practice, the fearful thought loop can be broken and overcome.
If you find yourself constantly catastrophizing circumstances and feel hopeless to change this pattern, seek the help of an experienced therapist who can help you.
Redeemed Life Counseling is here to help! Our therapists are skilled in helping people overcome their unhealthy thinking patterns and learn to live life with more helpful and healthy thinking.
Call or email us today to set up an appointment with a therapist who can help you.
940-222-8552 or email [email protected]
Teen Social Anxiety